The Warrior’s Challenge is in the wild

Warriors Challenge cover

Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge has entered its pre-release phase, meaning that for the next two weeks, it is being sold in e-book format exclusively in the Ylva store. After that, it will be available everywhere, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (If you are looking for the paperback edition, it has been sent to the printers and we’re hoping it will be on Amazon by this time next week.)

We worked hard to get this book out in time for Thanksgiving, and that work paid off when I realized how much happiness we have brought into some readers’ lives. With permission, I’m reprinting a Facebook post that made my morning today:

Fb post

I would say I’m sorry for the fact that her family will be ignored, but…I’m not sorry at all.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wallpaper Monday


While the headlines and social media are saturated with news of the terrorists attacks in Paris, I’ve seen almost no coverage of the terrorist attacks in Beirut, which occurred one day earlier. The latest report from CNN lists 43 dead and 239 injured from a pair of suicide bombings. ISIS is causing misery in so many places and to so many people.

I looked around for Beirut wallpapers, but found only cityscapes. Looking a bit further afield, I discovered Baalbek, more properly written as Ba’albek. The site holds the best-preserved Roman ruins in the country, and the Temple of Bacchus (seen through the pillars here) was one of the largest of the Roman empire. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew the town as Heliopolis, a name I remember from my classical studies. I never realized the temple was still there.

(Click the image to embiggen.)

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Getting a mountain fix 1: Four-in-One Cone

One thing that I really, really miss in Portugal is the presence of real mountains. Year-round streams and tall trees, too, but at least I can find those within a reasonable drive from the Algarve. Real mountains, the kind with no visible human footprint nearby, are much harder to get to.

So when we went to Oregon this summer, one thing I simply had to do was hike in the Cascade Mountains. Fortunately, my best friend and veteran hiking buddy was happy to oblige, so on my last weekend before returning home, we packed up and headed to the Cascades. Our first stop was Four-in-One Cone.

The trail starts out in dry forest, winding through pines and beargrass for several miles before reaching a wall of basalt lava.

(Click on any photo to embiggen.)

lava ridge

All central Oregon hikers know that this stuff is hell on hiking shoes — and ankles, too. Basalt is sharp and abrasive, and even worn trails like this are full of small pieces that turn and roll under your foot when you step on them. But the payback is awesome. Hiking on lava, seeing it all around you…there’s nothing like it.

lava's end

The trail crosses to a forested island, surrounded on all sides by the lava flow. It turns southeast and meanders along the base of the flow, giving the hiker a fabulous view of the wall of basalt looming on one side…and North Sister dominating the view in front.

After crossing another wall of lava, the trail enters a cinder barrens, the result of the many eruptions that built Four-in-One Cone.

cinder moonscape

Even lava flows have more life than this. Cinder barrens are the most sterile landscapes I know of, and have an austere beauty all their own.

They’re also really great at turning ankles.

The trail climbs to the top of Four-in-One Cone and then runs along the ridge line, giving views into all four cones. But if you’re expecting perfect geometry and rounded cones, you’ll be disappointed. All four of these eruptions blew out the northwest side of the original cinder cone, resulting in an unbroken wall on east side (see above photo) and a series of gouges and ridges on the west.

Best of all, of course, is the magnificent view: Mt. Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Jefferson on one side…

Four-in-One Cone

…and North and Middle Sister on the other.

North Sister

I think my favorite landscape shot might be this one, though. The bleached bones of dead pines shine brilliantly all through this landscape, in sharp contrast to the dark lava and the bright green of the living trees.

Bleached bones

Central Oregon is a place of extremes. Edges are sharp, colors are vivid, and the whole landscape tells a tale of titanic births and deaths. It’s a part of my home that is deeply embedded in my heart, and there are no words for how it felt to stand here and breath this dry, piney air.

Posted in Oregon | 8 Comments

Rain after drought = flood

After more than four months of summer drought, the Algarve has finally been getting its autumn rains. But less than two weeks of occasional squalls plus a day or two of light rain hasn’t been enough for the water to fully penetrate soil that was baked into concrete. So when it rained hard all day yesterday, some municipalities had no way to control the runoff. Quarteira, Albufeira, and Boliqueime were all hit by flash floods up to two meters (six feet) high. One man died in Boliqueime when the rising waters swept him away, and in Albufeira the floodwaters reached halfway up the first floor in the city center.

Loulé had no issues other than a temporary road closure. In fact, we were so insulated from any problems that when a friend told me about the floods, I thought she was exaggerating.

She was not, as this video shows.

(Albufeira is located about 20 km from where we live.)

Posted in Portugal, video, weather | 3 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Our long summer drought has broken, and it has been raining off and on for two weeks now. Sometimes the rain falls in showers, other times in gully washers so ferocious that most of the town is obscured behind the wall of water.

After one recent squall, I ventured outside to photograph a handful of trapped raindrops on my succulents. In a slight departure from my usual wallpapers, I’m uploading this one just for the macro fun of it.

Raindrops on succulent 001

Click the image (and then the download icon at bottom right) to embiggen.

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On the way to Oregon

For the first several days of our trip to Oregon, we were far out of state. Our flight landed in Vancouver, British Columbia, where we spent two days before hopping the ferry to Victoria. Two days later we were on another ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, and then made our way south.

Heron in Vancouver

One of my favorite photos from Vancouver is this one, taken after we had spent an afternoon wandering about the harbor and exploring Granville Island. It was sunset when we finally made our way back to the dock of Granville Island to await the tiny little harbor ferry, only to find that we were not the sole occupants of the dock. A great blue heron was there as well, providing the perfect juxtaposition of urban and wild.

Hurricane Ridge

Upon arriving at Port Angeles — and eating lunch at a diner so typical of small-town western US that it was stereotypical, right down to the garrulous waitress with very right-wing beliefs — we headed uphill to a place I had not seen for twenty years. Hurricane Ridge looks much different during a summer drought than it did the last time I saw it, with snow on every peak. The “snow” visible here is not snow but glaciers, or the remnants of them.

Hurricane Ridge 2

I hope this artist was making judicious use of sunblock. The visitor center at Hurricane Ridge is just under one mile high in altitude: 5,242 feet (1,598 meters), and it was here that my wife acquired the only sunburn I have ever seen on her. She has darker skin than I, and usually scoffs at sunblock because she never needs it, but she has only experienced this kind of altitude a few times in her life (mostly in my company). For two months she looked a bit like WC Fields.

Hoh Rain Forest

Just a few hours south, and in sharp contrast to Hurricane Ridge, is the Hoh Rain Forest. None of us had ever been there, and I’d like to go back someday, when I have time and backpacking gear. There are some fabulous trails here.

We satisfied ourselves with one of the short walks, and it was here, surrounded by giant conifers and that unmistakable scent of temperate coastal rain forest, that I first felt I had truly come home. (The tree behind Maria is not a conifer but a maple — their rough bark makes a perfect substrate for moss.)

Cannon Beach

The coastal highway doesn’t often touch the actual coastline in Washington, so it wasn’t until we crossed the Columbia River into Oregon that we began seeing those glorious ocean views. Late in the day, we pulled into Ecola State Park and walked to a very familiar overlook.

I’ve hiked the trails of Tillamook Head numerous times, and ogled this view of Cannon Beach for hours. On the other side of this headland (behind the photographer) is another, lesser-known beach called Indian Beach. It was there, in October 2006, that I asked Maria to marry me with the Terrible Tilly lighthouse as our only witness. A week later she flew home to Portugal, and I would not see her for another three months. Those were three very long months.

We hadn’t been back to this park in nine years. It looks exactly the same. But heavens, how our lives have changed since then — and all for the better, because Maria said yes.

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Announcing the publication of Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge

It has been a long time coming, but I’m delighted to announce that the sequel to The Caphenon has just been released! Or perhaps I should say pre-released, because for the next two weeks, Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge is solely available at Ylva Publishing.

Buying from Ylva is great for readers who want digital files, because you get all three formats (epub, Kindle, PDF) for the same price, and it’s great for authors, because we aren’t paying a huge overhead to Amazon and so we get a larger share. If you are holding out for a paperback copy, that should be available on Amazon next week. (Since those come from the printer, we don’t have exact control over the scheduling.)

On 23 October, the book will be available on all platforms and several retailers, including in Kindle format on Amazon. But you don’t have to wait that long.

Now then, I’m going to let you feast your eyes on this lovely cover, and then tell you a bit about the book…

WAF Producers Challenge

Readers who have been following my work since the fanfic days know that I wrote the original version of this book back in 2006. This version is far superior for several reasons. First, I’m a better writer than I was nine years ago. Second, I had to rewrite this book to fit into the world I created for The Caphenon, which meant increasing the scope of its world-building and expanding the cast of characters. The epic romance that anchored the story is still there and better than ever, but the sci-fi wrapping, the consequences of the events of The Caphenon, the overall scope — those are new and bigger and more complex.

Readers who have never seen this book before will find themselves sucked right back in where The Caphenon left off. The events of that story had to have consequences, and they will continue to ripple through the series. Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge focuses on Lancer Tal as she works to heal her war-torn world and simultaneously bring it into the future. Not everyone is happy about the new technologies, particularly the producer caste — and one producer becomes a bigger problem than all the others. Tal comes up with a novel solution to that problem, which leads her to both a sanctuary and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But her choices in The Caphenon have left her politically vulnerable, and sanctuary and dreams are distractions.

As a responsible author, I must issue a warning here. This is volume one of Without A Front, and that means…yes, it ends on a cliffhanger. The story is entirely resolved in Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge, which will be published in November. We deliberately scheduled the two books to come out within a few weeks of each other for just this reason. If you buy the first one now, you haven’t long to wait before finding out what happened…and you won’t be left hanging at the end of volume two. I am not that cruel, unlike some famous authors we will not name.

The Ylva store works with both PayPal accounts and bank cards. I would caution readers against using PayPal’s eCheque, because PayPal does not tell you that eCheques can take a week to clear the bank, and the store cannot send the goods until the check clears. Nobody wants to wait that long.

And finally, because everyone loves a sneak peek…have a look at the first 29 pages of Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge in either PDF or epub.

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Walking at the UBC

On our second day in Vancouver, my wife wanted to visit the anthropology museum at the University of British Columbia. So we drove there, and I became increasingly enthralled as we passed along the outer edge of the campus. The trees, the pathways, the beauty…I decided to take myself for a walk while the others did the museum thing.

UBC clock tower

The clock tower must surely be in all walking directions given at UBC. “Just turn left at the clock tower and then go two more blocks…” It’s iconic and unmissable. And that statue of a mother and child — very unusual for a university campus. It made me stop and ponder.

From where I took this photo, I could see a distinctive glass roof rising over the trees. It was obviously one of the major buildings on campus, if not THE major building, so I went to see what it was.

UBC library

I thought, arena? Sports center? Football training center? I attended a typical American state university; sports are by far the most financed part of the university life. I couldn’t imagine it being an actual academic building.

It was the library.

I love Canada.

UBC haven sign

But the place that really held me spellbound was this half log, mounted beneath a tree that had five very brightly painted birdhouses hanging from it. The birdhouses had signs on them, for wren, woodpecker, chickadee, finch, and sparrow.

I appreciated the metaphor of the birdhouses for various species, all in the same tree, here on a campus where students from all over the world come together to attend school. But what really moved me were the words on that half log. Here they are:

“The most surprising thing about coming to Canada was to see a person walking ahead of me and holding open a door until I could put my hand on it. Where I come from, people were taught to kill. The first thing they would want to do if they saw me was hit me with a machete. And then, just two and a half years later, the first person I see, their first concern for me is: Can I hold open the door for you? I don’t think anyone else at UBC was walking around feeling so amazed at doors being opened.” — Willy, Rwanda

“What is home? When I moved to Vancouver, I thought that home was a safe place, a place of prosperity. But now I understand that home is home because of identity. Home is home because of your people. I don’t call Vancouver home because my parents are not here, but it is a good place. I have gained many things since being here — knowledge, experience, a better understanding of how the world works. But, it is difficult to adapt to a new environment, to be what the environment wants you to be. You can experience challenges anywhere. People just collide sometimes.” — Makerduek, South Sudan

“Every time I think I might be taking my life for granted, I think about my parents. My father was a brilliant student at university and, just before he could graduate, they had to flee the country while my mother was pregnant with me. So, whenever I start to complain about university work, I think of my father and how he had to leave in the middle of his degree just because someone decided to start a war. My parents are proud to be immigrants; everything they have in Canada, they’ve created for themselves. I feel disconnected sometimes, when I realize how much other people take for granted.” — Tara, Croatia

“My parents have lived in the same house for my entire life. It’s a quiet place — the yard ringed with trees where birds nest, close enough to the ocean that you can smell the salt. When I was young, we acted as a host family to students from the international school who stayed with us during breaks and, sometimes, for years after they’d graduated. The house was always filled with different voices and different stories. It was there that I first realized how lucky I was. While so many others came from such difficult circumstances, I had nothing to run from, nothing to escape.” — Chris, Canada

I did not learn about the First Nation history of the area, as my wife and friends did in what sounds like an excellent museum. I learned something else instead, and had a wonderful, memorable time getting to know the area around the UBC campus.

And that’s not even mentioning the clothing-optional beach.

Posted in culture, travel | 1 Comment

Wallpaper Tuesday

Joshua Tree stars

Purists might object to the front-lit rocks in this image, but I love the warm tones of the boulders contrasting with the cool tones of (most of) the sky. Photo by Wayne Pinkston in what appears to be Joshua Tree National Park, California.

(Click the image to hugely embiggen.)

Posted in wallpaper | 2 Comments

The great yellow mystery

Sulfur pile

Our first day in Vancouver consisted largely of trying to stay awake long enough to start adjusting our body clocks. (Eight time zones is a killer.) Accordingly, we went for a walk in Stanley Park and admired the scenery, which is glorious. Mountains wrapped in low clouds, endless water, boats everywhere, and…what were those giant piles of yellow practically glowing across the bay?

My first guess was sulfur, which turned out to be right. It’s a byproduct of the processing of natural gas and oil sands, and used in the making of fertilizer. A bit of checking revealed that sulfur has surely made and broken fortunes, because between March 2007 and April 2008, the price per ton of Vancouver sulfur went from $50 USD to a whopping $650, thanks to the demand of a growing Chinese economy. Analysts were convinced that the spike was simply the springboard of another huge increase, since supplies were fixed but demand was increasing.

Instead, the price dropped again. Right now it’s around $95 per ton, even for Vancouver sulfur, which is considered the market benchmark. One wonders how many investors jumped on that springboard, only to fall into a deep abyss.

Fortunately, no one in our group was concerned with commodities prices, so we were able to enjoy the almost preternatural glow of those huge piles. Set against the gloom of the dark sky and water, they were an odd splash of beauty in an industrial landscape.

Posted in travel | 10 Comments